Quest10ns – Jenn E. Norton

Jenn E. Norton is the artist behind Dredging a Wake, on view now until January 4th. Dredging a Wake activates video art, projections and sculptures in magically interactive ways. Norton’s immersive installation works challenge visual perception, asking viewers to suspend their disbelief via illusionary images that move and reflect in enigmatic ways.

1. City or place that most reflects your practice …
The city that reflects my practice is whichever city I am living in.  When I lived in Toronto, I made a couple of works about living in that city. “Very Good Advice” is a video that addressed the squalor and decay of Toronto’s infrastructure during the 2009 garbage strike.  This was done by reimagining the city as a magical landscape, comprised of crystalline skyline, calliope and anthropomorphic buildings that were keen to cuddle one another.  The rainbow palette the city was cast in served as a possible resolve to an austere conservatism that was clearly not working.

The residential areas of Guelph influenced a body work, entitled, “NO PLACE” that playfully challenged notions of ownership and permanence.  I also created public works for the downtown core of Guelph in the form of architectural renderings, based upon written suggestions that I collected from a suggestion box on how Guelphites imagined a better city.

In the Yukon, it was the scars in the landscape that inspired an installation, entitled, “Mirador”.  Here in Paris, I am collecting images of art nouveau architecture and design to create an ornate sci-fi city, posited, ambiguously, as a utopia.  Digital photographs of ornate details taken from the streets of Paris (such as a curvilinear motif from a balcony, a floral tendril from an iron gate, or the floral pattern carved in stone) are the source material for 3D models.   These models are combined to construct an entire city, writhing in the animistic aesthetic art nouveau, in which the form belies its materiality.  This futuristic city is comprised entirely from historic structures, yet is alien and unfamiliar in its recombination.

2. Time of day you are most productive …
Between 9am to 2pm, when my daughter is at preschool.  Occasionally I enjoy a productive bout if I wake up in wee hours, and can work until about 6:30am, but this does throw a monkey wrench into the rest of the day’s productivity.

3. Three things that are a must in the studio while working …
1. Coffee 2. Solitude 3. Fast processor

4. A tool you most commonly use to make your art …
A computer equipped with Adobe After Effects, Cinema 4D and Pro Tools

5. Your latest work was inspired by …
Failure.  But a particular type of failure that stems from genuine optimism, hope and creative endeavours.  There have been many seemingly altruistic strategies to better a city that end in discord.  Many ideas for amelioration are quickly negated and replaced in endless succession. What would happen if a municipality committed itself entirely to an aesthetic, or philosophy and just ran with it for better or worse, until a city was completely defined by it?  This was the inception for the fictional urban landscape that I am now creating, where all infrastructural planning adheres to the implementation of a design movement.  Art nouveau seemed like an appropriate reference due to its unlikely succession as a feasible aesthetic, as its luxurious characteristics seem absurd in light of economic crisis and conservatism in government.  The city I am creating resides within a precarious ambiguity of ideal and dystopian realms.  It is an anachronistic skyline, oscillating between past and present as it’s futuristic, even alien  appearance, presents a disjunction from the visual citation.  This new work will be presented at the Art Gallery of Burlington in December, 2015.

6. If you weren’t an artist you’d be …
Believe it or not, I have never thought of an alternative to being an artist.  There are many other activities and skills I would like to take up, but not in lieu of being an artist.  Before I went to art school I wanted to write and direct feature films, but since working in installation for years, I feel distant from the narrative format as a creator, although consume it eagerly and with admiration. Working on soundtracks for my videos is the most pleasurable part of my studio process, so if I had to trade in being an artist for another employment I could maybe work in sound?  In a dream scenario, it would be a lot of fun to voice cartoon characters.  I do work as a freelancer editor, for other artists and commercially, so I suppose that is a plan B.

7. Piece of art you’d like to own …
Any of Sherri Hay’s disaster globes, from the ‘Wish you Were Here’ series

8. Last exhibition you saw …
Can I list more than one?

David Altmedj: Flux, at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

Paul McCarthy: The Chocolate Factory, at Monnaie de Paris

Inside, at Palais de Tokyo

9. An item recently scratched off your to-do wish list …
To live in Paris via La cité internationale des arts, Canada Council for the Arts International Residency Program.

[This is where Jenn is now.]

I am in heaven.

10. If you could live in any historical era what would it be and where …
The honest answer is that as a woman, the past is not a trajectory I would like to move in, but there certainly are instances of beauty.  To be an artist working with the inception of film both here in Paris and in New York must have been exhilarating.  If I could time travel for a wee visit, then return to the present, I would learn from the prolific film pioneer Alice Guy-Blaché as she defined how narrative looks on film in 1896, and as she set up the autonomous Solax Studios in 1910, in Flushing, New York.  Over her career she directed over 1000 films and was also an early expert of recording synched audio, using the ‘Chronophone’, which must have been like pure magic for the audience of that time.  She was also a mother of two.  How did she do this in the Victorian and Edwardian era?

While seeing Alice Guy-Blaché in New York would be empowering, I think I would stick to her highlights, then promptly set off to the golden age of Paris, rather than the Gilded Age of America.  Another innovator of early cinema is, of course, Georges Méliès, whom I feel influenced by.  I would like to spy on him as he built his own DIY film camera so that he could concoct his cinematic spells to become the first Cinemagician, and to see the films that he had burnt in frustration of the business side of film. I would also not miss a performance of the Serpentine by Loïe Fuller, who also left the west for the charm of La Belle Époque. I would set up a studio at Rue Delambre in Montparnasse, then proceed to eat drink and be merry, possibly at Le Cabaret de l’Enfer. Alternately, at Le Cabaret du Néant.  Google them.  Seriously.  Who wouldn’t want to go there?  I could study art nouveau architecture as it was being erected, by Jules Lavirotte, Hector Guimard and see the beautiful works of Henri Sauvage, before they were destroyed, such as the Loïe Fuller Theater.

I would hope to see the Paris of this era in the way Marc Chagall had described: “I aspired to see with my own eyes what I had heard of from so far away: this revolution of the eye, this rotation of colours, which spontaneously and astutely merge with one another in a flow of conceived lines. That could not be seen in my town. The sun of Art then shone only on Paris.”   Plus, all of this time travelling to Paris should really help with my new installation.

Jenn E. Norton
Doldrums 2014
Video stillInteractive digital media work

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